National Hispanic Heritage Month begins September 15 and continues to October 15. Across the country, classrooms will build piñatas, learn a few words of Spanish, and study some individuals from Spanish-speaking countries.
Before Hurricane Maria, 25 freshmen in a Midwestern college classroom were asked about Puerto Rico’s government. One student knew that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States with just one, non-voting representative in Congress. He had learned this in high school, from the comments of one teacher. The rest of the class, which was about one-third of Hispanic heritage, believed that Puerto Rico was a separate country with some deal that allowed Americans to travel without passports. These students were confident that the President of the United States was not president in Puerto Rico, but had no idea who was responsible for governing the island. Some thought they might have a king.
Among them, these students had some 900 teachers as they went through 13 years of public school. Only one of those teachers had conveyed accurate information about Puerto Rico.
By now, most Americans realize that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. Yet teachers are still celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with piñatas and information about Mexico. Students may have ideas about Puerto Rico based on news or conversations they heard about the hurricane, but they’re still usually not learning what they should in school.
In 2012, Puerto Rico’s voters chose to become a state. In 2017 and 2020, they repeated the vote with statehood again winning. The government of Puerto Rico has officially requested statehood. If Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state, would you rather be the one teacher who taught accurate information about Puerto Rico or the dozens who failed to do so?
Include some lessons on Puerto Rican heritage in your classroom celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month.
We have several that help students understand the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States:
- Classroom discussion questions about the basic facts.
- Questions on history
- Questions on language
- A clear explanation of the territories of the United States
Here are several from the Smithsonian Institution:
- The Smithsonian has lessons on Carnival in Puerto Rico to download for grades 1-12. These lessons look at traditional masks and compare celebrations in Puerto Rico with similar celebrations elsewhere in the U.S. and the world. Their Puerto Rico Carnival page has activities suited to home use as well as the classroom.
- From the same source, lessons on baseball great and humanitarian Roberto Clemente. (Requires Flash.)The lessons are for middle school, but the resources could be used for other grades, or at home.
- The Smithsonian also has an online art exhibition with an interactive map and a timeline of the history of Puerto Rico.
Lessons from other sources:
- FreshPlans rounds up K-12 classroom resources on Puerto Rico.
- Check out some puzzles about Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, and enjoy her visit with The Daily Show and Sesame Street. (Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report pointed out after these programs that more American women have become princesses than have become Supreme Court justices.)